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HistoryIT | We Give History A Future

Story #007: Calling the National Panhellenic Conference

In celebration of Alpha Phi’s 150th Anniversary in 2022, we proudly share stories and moments that have created the legacy of sisterhood originally launched by our ten founders and which we still hold dear today.

This is story 7 of 150.


Calling together the National Panhellenic Conference 

The first meeting of the seven-sorority group occurred April 16 and 17 of 1891 when Kappa Kappa Gamma invited Alpha Phi, Delta Gamma, Delta Delta Delta, Gamma Phi Beta, Kappa Alpha Theta and Pi Beta Phi to gather in Boston. Lucy Evelyn Wight of Kappa Kappa Gamma presided and recruitment was a key topic. This initial meeting was followed up with an informal gathering in 1893, of which no known records exist. The group fell dormant until Alpha Phi issued a fresh invitation to the same fraternities, with the addition of Alpha Chi Omega and Chi Omega. While the 1890s meetings of the group were indeed the first, 1902 is generally considered the launch of the National Panhellenic Conference because it was then that the groups involved began to work together in earnest.

Past Alpha Phi President Margaret Mason Whitney (Theta-Michigan) saw the differences in the behavior and approach of Alpha Phis from chapter to chapter and she knew the sisterhood would benefit from some “uniform action on the part of all national sororities if any permanent results were to be brought about”  The reports from Alpha Phi visiting delegate Gertrude Savage Webster (Theta-Michigan)  confirmed her thoughts on how women may benefit from a unified governance. Margaret initiated correspondence with the leaders of seven prominent sororities of the time, each of whom were interested in “united action for the good of all.” And so the group that would eventually be known as the National Panhellenic Conference, the governing organization of 26 women’s fraternities and sororities, was born.

The women had their historic meeting of what would become the Inter-Sorority Conference at the Mandel Brother’s Tea room in Chicago on May 24, 1902. They then moved to the Director’s Room in the bank Vault of the Columbus Memorial Building in the city. Alpha Phi’s representative at the conference, Minnie Ruth Terry (Beta-Northwestern) made the meeting arrangements. Topics discussed were varied and included recruitment.

In this one big step forward, there were also challenges. At this first meeting, the representatives drafted five bylaws which, if unanimously approved by each sorority, would equate to the first inter-sorority compact. Each sorority was asked to determine its position on the by-laws and, at the next conference, to be held in 1903, the by-laws would be presented for a vote. In October of 1902, Alpha Phi discussed the bylaws and Minnie urged her Alpha Phi sisters to consider them. With progress, there would be sacrifices and Minnie expressed that some individual chapters in all of the sororities may have to give up some “cherished customs and petty advantages for the greater good of all women.”

At the 1903 meeting, nine sororities met and agreed that they hoped the Inter-Sorority Conference would be able to help remedy the groups’ general displeasure with recruitment and bidding practices. Alpha Phi voted to accept all five bylaws, as did two other organizations. The other six sororities voted to accept pieces and parts of bylaws for various reasons and the lack of consensus created a scenario where none of the bylaws were passed. Differences on campuses regarding chapter housing and length of recruitment periods, for example, influenced the decisions of many of the women, and so it was voted unanimously to form regional Panhellenic associations. These associations existed at colleges that had two or more national sororities on campus and were formed of one alumna and one active member from each sorority represented in the specific association.  This effort was a positive step in Panhellenic unity. For the first time, members formulated agreements designed to gather Greek women’s organizations around common goals.


PHOTO: This photo from the 1995 National Panhellenic Conference gathering shows Alpha Phi representatives _________________________________.